US evacuates Diamond Princess cruise passengers; 40 Americans on board test positive for coronavirus

At least 40 Americans on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship tested positive for coronavirus, according to immunologist Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. 

a large ship in the water: The Diamond Princess arrives back in port in Yokohama, Japan, Feb. 12 after going out to sea to produce potable water. The ship remains under quarantine until Feb. 19 after hundreds of people were diagnosed with coronavirus.

Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Fauci confirmed “40 of them have gotten infected.” It was not immediately clear whether the number was in addition to the 20 infected Americans previously reported or if it is a new total. 

USA TODAY reached out to the NIAID for more information. 

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The United States began the process Sunday of evacuating American passengers under quarantine. Fauci stressed that those who tested positive would not be among the evacuees. 

“They are not going to go anywhere. They’re going to be in hospitals in Japan,” Fauci said. “People who have symptoms will not be able to get on the evacuation plane. … If people on the plane start to develop symptoms, they’ll be segregated within the plane.”

The Canadian Embassy in Tokyo has notified Princess Cruises that Canada will provide chartered aircraft to bring back all Canadians quarantined on the ship, the cruise line said in a statement provided to USA TODAY by Negin Kamali.

Matthew Smith, a passenger aboard the ship, told USA TODAY he and his wife, Katherine, did not plan to take the charter flight back to the USA because they believed the “way they are handling this is not safe.” Sunday, he shared details of what the plan looked like for passengers as the evacuation began.

“(I’m) watching the ‘rescue’ with fascination,” he wrote in a series of messages to USA TODAY. “To have a front-row seat to an incident being followed world-wide is bizarre.”

In a letter sent Sunday morning to American passengers and crew members, the U.S. Embassy in Japan announced flights would depart Yokohama to the USA that day and would be the “only opportunity for eligible passengers to fly to the United States until March 4, 2020, at the earliest.” 

Smith said passengers were prompted to RSVP to the U.S. Embassy. 

“The American medical personnel who stopped by our stateroom to ask us some questions seemed surprised that we were staying, but didn’t go beyond that,” Smith said. Personnel confirmed the couple was not on their list before advising someone through a radio that they would remain on board, he said. 

For passengers who did opt to disembark, a “tented corridor with tables” was set up to process them through Japanese immigration. Guests boarded shuttles by their cruise deck, Smith said. “It appears the coaches will all depart together once they are filled.”

USA TODAY reached out to Diamond Princess for more information about the evacuation.

How US plans to evacuate Americans

The U.S. State Department coordinated with the Department of Health and Human Services, along with other agencies, to provide a charter aircraft to bring passengers back to the USA. 

Americans will be bused to the aircraft and will be screened for coronavirus before boarding. The flight will land at Travis Air Force Base in California, where some passengers will stay, and others will continue on to Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.

All travelers returning from a “high risk area” will be required to complete a 14-day quarantine upon their return. Americans who choose not to return on the charter flight will be unable to return to the USA before next month, the U.S. Embassy’s letter said. 

Last week, the cruise line announced that some passengers, starting with the medically vulnerable, would be let off the ship to complete the quarantine.  The U.S. Embassy in Tokyo said Friday that the first group of passengers disembarked in Yokahama, Japan, to complete their 14-day quarantine period for coronavirus off the ship.

Twelve people have voluntarily disembarked, and 55 in the group that tested negative for coronavirus stayed on board, Princess Cruises said in a news release provided by spokesperson Negin Kamali. 

In China, the outbreak has infected more than 68,500 people and killed 1,670  worldwide as of Sunday afternoon. 

The Princess Cruises ship was carrying 2,666 guests and 1,045 crew when it set sail and was quarantined after 10 cases of coronavirus were reported Feb. 4. 

Preliminary plans for the end of the Diamond Princess cruise ship’s quarantine came to light Saturday after the U.S. Embassy and Consulate in Japan announced the United States would evacuate American passengers. There were about 400 American passengers on board the Diamond Princess, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Sunday, Japan announced an additional 70 infections on the Diamond Princess, raising the ship’s total number of cases to 355. Off the ship, Japan has 59 confirmed cases of the virus, including one death.

The Princess Cruises ship’s required two-week quarantine is supposed to end Feb. 19. The company announced Sunday it would cancel additional cruises planned through April 20, “based on the prolonged quarantine period and the anticipated time to prepare the ship to return service.” 

Diamond Princess Update:

President Jan Swartz provided a video update to the guests and team onboard Diamond Princess as the Japanese Ministry of Health begins to share their draft plans for disembarkation.

Contributing: Curtis Tate, Jayme Deerwester

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